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Our Bodies Are Not Public Property

In a high density region of New York City, Shoshana B. Roberts, a 24-year-old unknown actress, walked around the city for 10 hours wearing jeans and a black T-shirt. A hidden camera was filming Roberts and the reactions of the people in her surroundings. During the ten hours, there were more than 100 instances of street verbal harassment as well as countless winks and whistles (The Washington Post). This filming was processed by Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment advocacy group.

Street harassment is a form of gender-based violence; domestic violence, forced marriage, sexual trafficking (read my fellow blogger iregreaves), femicides (read my fellow blogger danibicknell), and forced prostitution could also be regarded as gender-based violence. Street harassment is defined as unwelcome and unwanted attention of a sexual nature, objectifying and targeting women in particular. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three women has experienced unwanted non-contact sexual experiences. Apparent physical actions can be dealt by law or regulations; however, ambiguous comments and actions such as leering, catcalling, and whistling are not dealt with. catcallThis might be because the unwelcome and unwanted attention is truly subjective, and the degree to experience harassment could only result to individual variability. For example, if a man says “Hey, you’re beautiful,” some women will take the comment in a complimentary manner while others will take it as a form of sexually assault and be offended. Due to the vague characteristic of perception, it is difficult to criminalize harassers and various behavior of harassment; moreover, victims have difficulty raising their voice about street harassment.

The impressive aspect of the video is the attire that Roberts wore. Rob Bliss, who filmed the video, said “we choose the type of clothes that women commonly wear because we don’t want people to say that she wore clothes which invited sexual harassment” (The Huffington Post Korea). I have been told by elders to wear clothes neatly and behave properly to not lure men and become a victim of sexual assault. Whenever I heard such statements and advice, it seemed as if sexual harassment was caused by women’s shortcomings or misjudgments. However, why do men give leering hellos and unpleasant compliments to women that pass by? Why do they pass the buck to how women dress and their behavior, and not take into consideration the form of attention they give to women?

streetharassmentAfter the video released by Roberts caused her to receive numerous rape threats, a fierce debate about the video was initiated. Nevertheless, the video brought forth an important topic that is a commonplace issue and is one that needs to be solved. This video could be a tool for helping women who are in the status of victims be liberated from becoming getting numb about their experience. I hope this effort would show how intimidating the men’s trivial behavior or comments are and bear fruit for women’s right to be safe.

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